Welcome to part two of my blog series about the 2017 Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference. If you haven’t read part one yet, you can find it here.

Every good day starts with a good breakfast, and this was certainly true of day one of conference. Coming back home and realising that unless I put some serious effort into training the dog, I won’t have a hassle-free cooked breakfast every morning has been a serious blow.

After a leisurely breakfast and chat with fellow delegates, it was time for the opening talk. This was given by Oliver Kamm, a columnist and leader-writer for the Times and author of a book about the English language called Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English (and yes, I had to google the world ‘accidence’ too!). I thoroughly enjoyed Oliver’s talk. I’m always slightly in awe of speakers who don’t require notes or any visual props and can just command an entire room with their captivating and articulate words. Oliver spoke very eloquently about his philosophy towards the English language, and his talk was peppered with amusing anecdotes, some of which I found particular pleasure in, being a former sub-editor.

Since I left the world of newspapers and have had the chance to meet a great many editors from other disciplines, as well as had the freedom to explore more style guides and different philosophies about degrees of prescriptivism (and, yes, pedantry), my own approach to the English language has changed. The more I have learned, the more I have come to understand how damaging ‘zombie rules’ can be to our language, particularly working, as I do, with creative writing. I remember being taught the rule that you shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’, and that stuck with me for years and years until I started to update my knowledge and seek out new information.

Oliver Kamm’s talk was reassuring, as was Geoff Pullum’s (which I’ll talk about in a subsequent blog), as it has given me much more of a sense of authority and foundation when people ask about things like splitting an infinitive or never using passive voice (spoiler: passive voice is a normal part of the English language and not inherently ‘bad’).

After Oliver’s talk, it was time for the first session of the weekend, and one I was particularly looking forward to as it was being run by two editors I greatly admire, and who are good friends of mine too. John Espirian and Louise Harnby are two of the big-hitters when it comes to content marketing in the proofreading, editing, and technical writing fields. Their content is hugely popular and valuable, and I was keen to see how their approach to content marketing could help boost my own business.

I’ve dipped my toe into the water before when it comes to content marketing, and I’ve dabbled a bit with various methods. I’d recorded some videos and screencasts, I had set up an information hub with useful resources, and I had a sporadic blog. But (ha, take that, pedants!) I didn’t feel particularly confident in my approach and as a result, my motivation had tailed off and I hadn’t done much of anything other than work in months. I was hoping that the session, titled ‘Introduction to content marketing’, would light a fire under me.

It’s hard not to be inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of John and Louise. They’re almost like editing celebrities, so getting the chance to hear how they have made their two (very different) brands so successful was a real privilege. And they ensured my five-star feedback straight away when we were all given a lollipop. Sweeties are undoubtedly the way to my heart.

What struck me was how much they both enjoyed the actual process of marketing. Some editors are very reluctant marketers and would much rather focus on just doing the work. Others, like me, actually really enjoy the marketing aspect, and I took heart that it’s possible to balance the time needed for content marketing with the time actually required to do the work that all your marketing brings to your door.

I soon learned that I had given up with my strategy way too soon. Apparently, it can take two and a half years to start to see the real results of a content marketing strategy, so my few months of work was just a drop in the ocean. At first, it seemed a bit daunting: two and a half years for it to make a difference? But then I thought of my own business, which has been up and running for two and a half years, and thought about how far I’d come and how much it had changed in that time. Suddenly, two and a half years didn’t sound nearly as long as it had.

John and Louise were bursting with ideas for the type of content that could add value to visitors to your website and your social media contacts. Blog posts, video blogs, screencasts, podcasts, PDF booklets, infographics . . . They told us to think about how we might solve the problems of our potential clients or whoever we want to appeal to. Louise also spoke about the importance of being able to answer visitors’ questions on your own website, rather than sending them off somewhere else or having them leave of their own accord because they can’t find what they’re looking for. By having valuable content on your website, people are more likely to stick around.

By now, I was starting to feel quite enthusiastic about it, and ideas of content relevant to my own business were beginning to take root in my brain. I realised that I spent a lot of time in discussion with clients answering their questions, many of which I’d been asked quite a few times. Wouldn’t it be great if I had content on my website for potential clients to find the answers to those questions before they even have to ask?

No time for too much thinking, though, because it was time for the practical exercise. And in typical John and Louise fashion, it was tremendous fun as well as insightful. Our task was to split into small groups and think about a content marketing strategy for one of several whacky businesses on offer. And whacky they were: chicken sexer, human scarecrow, professional mermaid, and time-travelling holiday company were just a few of the options. My partner and I opted for the time-travelling holiday firm, and we had a blast thinking about what content would answer the questions of potential holidaymakers.

Some of our favourite ideas were a blog post entitled ’Ten Medieval Superfoods’, a podcast on how to understand medieval English, and a video on how to dress to be authentic for your time period. Even though this was a fictional business (although a career change to professional mermaid is a possibility now), the exercise was incredibly helpful. It really crystallised my thinking and I could easily translate some of the content ideas into topics for my own business.

Of course, I forgot to mention that there were prizes (a veritable mound of content marketing books) for the best idea. Sadly, we didn’t win, but I was delighted for my good friends Kia Thomas and Kate Haigh, whose content marketing strategy for a human scarecrow business (called Outstanding in the Field, no less) was truly brilliant.

As the session came to a close, I was bubbling with ideas. I’d planned to write a blog on conference, as I do each year, but Louise had mentioned the value in splitting content in several posts (and of repurposing content for different things), so I decided that I didn’t have to try to cram everything into one post; instead, I could use the huge amount of material from conference to add content to my own website and write a blog series.

I’m still in the process of drawing up my plans for how to move my business forward. Typically, I came down with a nasty cold the day after my return and that coupled with a big workload has limited what I’ve been able to do. However, I’ve reorganised my website a little, and I’ve started letting people actually know that I have good content on my website (as either John or Louise, or perhaps both, said during the session, content that isn’t visible is useless). I’ve noted down ideas for new content and I’ve written a couple of new guides, one of which is now up on my website. I also did a video introduction to my first conference blog post.

If you want to read a bit more about the content marketing session, Louise has written an excellent blog about it.

My next blog will cover the session I led on fiction editing and will be a precursor to a PDF booklet I’m putting together on an introduction to fiction editing. Stay tuned!